The Price of Being a Piddler in a Goal-Oriented World
It is 1:00 p.m. and I can’t say for sure where the morning went. I did some reading and ran an errand and made a doctor’s appointment. I played with a spreadsheet and created some graphs strictly for my own use and pleasure. I marveled at the beauty and sadness of a winter day.
I am just as likely to spend an afternoon taking a walk through the park with my camera in hand or sitting in silence for an eternity watching and waiting for a chipmunk to emerge from his hiding place in the roots of a gnarled old oak as I am to do something “constructive” like making money or catching up on my bookkeeping.
I am not a slacker. I am not lazy. I make the money I need and I work hard. Ask anyone who has ever worked with me and they will tell you that I am dependable and organized. But even in an office environment where I attend meetings and send e-mails and think grand work thoughts, I still take time to visit with co-workers, take walks, and work on side projects that are not required for my job, but rather bring an extra layer of worth and satisfaction to what I do.
I operate in the world in a way that many do not understand. It is every bit as important to me to spend hours organizing and labeling years worth of photographs or creating a birthday cake for my daughter as it is to finish a report due by the end of the day. I often look up to find that I have been lost in the flow of creativity and that the hours have evaporated into nothingness.
I realize that my work style is different because my priorities are different. I am a piddler by nature. Piddling is defined as wasting time in a trifling or ineffective way; to dawdle, which is what I am sure others see when they watch me in action. I simply cannot and will not stop tinkering and daydreaming and stopping to smell the flowers.
But I would argue that I am not wasting time. I am living life to the fullest, which is what others fail to see. I am not a Type-A personality. I am not a go-getter. I immerse myself completely into whatever holds my interest. Often, these things are not what others find interesting or compelling. My ex-husband used to wonder out loud what on earth I had been doing all day when he would return home from work and I was curled up on the couch with a book. I didn’t bother telling him about the cleaning or childcare or the stuff I did to make money. I would skip straight to the fact that I had managed to photograph a hummingbird. He didn’t get it.
When I was a child, I spent long hours daydreaming, walking in nature, catching butterflies and observing how the natural world worked. I carefully counted the money in my piggybank and created an accounting system so that I always knew how much money I had. I collected wildlife cards from National Geographic and spent afternoons alphabetizing and reading them over and over. I was always busy. I am still always busy — just not in the ways that are acceptable for adults.
I never planned my career, I simply took positions that I found interesting (wildlife rehabilitator, quality control, manager, bartender, consultant, funder, evaluator), yet I’ve managed to put together a fairly impressive resume stocked with varied life and work experiences. I’m sure I could have been more professionally focused. I’m sure I could have made more money if I’d been willing to give up more of my time. I could be better off than I am financially if I had only had a plan, but such is the price of piddling.
I have an advanced degree but take no particular pride in that fact. I went back to school for the sheer love of learning, not for career or financial gain. I have also taken classes as an adult to learn picture framing, creative writing, Spanish, and bartending. Against the advice of everyone as an undergraduate, I chose a minor in photography to go along with my major in biology. These are the decisions of a piddler.
In a world obsessed with goals and timelines, I focus on those things that bring me the most joy. It is difficult for me to answer the dreaded “What do you see yourself doing in five years?” question in interviews because I never really think that far ahead. Life is too magical and too unpredictable to ever think in such a linear way. I am not where I would have expected to be five years ago and that’s fine by me. I love my life.
So the price of my piddling is losing out on the chance to become a CEO or a VP in charge of this or that. I do not have the comfort of a huge 401K or a mini-mansion in the “best” neighborhood in town. I have lost out on trading my weekends for cold, hard cash or being on call during vacations. So be it.
I have experienced the joy of having summers to spend with my daughters and I was there when each of them took their first steps. I have had the time to think about my life and share my musings with my readers. I have traveled whenever the chance has presented itself and met fascinating people both in my own city and across the world. I have photographed a hummingbird in mid-flight. I have been awakened by the sound of howler monkeys in the rainforest. And I’m okay with that.